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Monday, July 19, 2010

The strange death of Margaret Fuller

The American Literary Blog notes that July 19th marks 160 years since the bizarre turn of events that led to the death of critic/editor/reformer/feminist/poet/travel-writer Margaret Fuller. During her return voyage from a three-year sojourn in Italy, the captain of her ship died of smallpox. The inexperienced first mate who took charge ran the ship aground in a storm just 100 yards off Fire Island. Fuller, her husband Marchese Giovanni Angelo d'Osso, and their one-year-old son all drowned before they could be rescued. The bodies of Fuller and her husband were never recovered, nor was the manuscript on the Italian revolution she was carrying with her.

In his 1846 essay, “The Literati of New York,” Edgar Allan Poe offered a brief portrait of Margaret Fuller, “the personal woman”:
She is of the medium height; nothing remarkable about the figure; a profusion of lustrous light hair; eyes a bluish gray, full of fire; capacious forehead; the mouth when in repose indicates profound sensibility, capacity for affection, for love — when moved by a slight smile, it becomes even beautiful in the intensity of this expression; but the upper lip, as if impelled by the action of involuntary muscles, habitually uplifts itself, conveying the impression of a sneer. Imagine, now, a person of this description looking you at one moment earnestly in the face, at the next seeming to look only within her own spirit or at the wall; moving nervously every now and then in her chair; speaking in a high key, but musically, deliberately, (not hurriedly or loudly,) with a delicious distinctness of enunciation — speaking . . . and emphasizing the words . . . not by impulsion of the breath, (as is usual,) but by drawing them out as long as possible, nearly closing her eyes the while — imagine all this, and we have both the woman and the authoress before us.
This essay also appears in Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews.

Other related LOA works: Ralph Waldo Emerson: Selected Journals: 1829-1842; American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, volume one: Freneau to Whitman

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